MaltaToday | 31 August 2008

NEWS | Sunday, 31 August 2008

Magistrate intervenes on behalf of Lija developer “as a friend"

Magistrate Consuelo Scerri Herrera made an unusual departure from the judiciary’s detachment from public affairs, when on Friday morning she stormed into the Lija council office to insist that the council authorises demolition works on a villa standing next to the Belvedere Tower.
The Justice and Home Affairs Ministry has said it has “taken note” of the incident, in which the magistrate claimed she was acting in the name of a developer, to demand the green light from the council for the demolition of the villa.
The Lija council has been trying to stop the demolition of the villa next to the picturesque landmark, which will now give way to a three-storey block of apartments.
When last Thursday, demolition started without the authorisation from the local council, the council asked the police to stop works until a local warden was engaged to supervise the works.
However, things took an unusual twist when Magistrate Consuelo Scerri Herrera entered the council offices to demand that demolition takes place for the apartment block, one of which belongs to her husband Lawrence Scerri.
When contacted by MaltaToday, Lija mayor Ian Castaldi Paris confirmed that the magistrate refused to leave the council’s office until a permit authorising the works was issued.
But Castaldi Paris did not comply with the magistrate’s demand, insisting that he would only issue the permit with the council’s conditions to developer Dr Carmelo Galea.
What happened next was that a fax from Galea came into the council authorising the magistrate to act on his behalf, which read: “I am authorising magistrate Dr Consuelo Scerri Herrera to apply in my name for any permit, licence or authorisation to enable me to start and continue the demolition and excavation of the building.”
He also authorised the magistrate “to accept any condition even if absurd and unreasonable which the local council imposes on me, if Magistrate Scerri Herrara thinks this is opportune.”
Asked by MaltaToday why he had authorised Scerri Herrara to speak on his behalf, Carmelo Galea simply replied that he gave her a procurement to act on his behalf because “she is a friend and I know her personally.”
When asked whether the magistrate had any personal interest in the development, Galea confirmed that Scerri Herrera’s husband – Lawrence Scerri – owns a flat in the apartment block.
In a comment to MaltaToday, a spokesperson for the justice ministry said the minister had taken note of the situation, “however such a case would fall under the direct compliance of the Commission for the Administration of Justice, which is free to act on its own initiative.”
The commission – the judiciary’s watchdog – is presided by the President of the Republic, and includes the Chief Justice.
If the commission does take up the case, it can draw the attention of Scerri Herrera on her conduct if it feels that the magistrate did not abide by the Code of Ethics of the judiciary.
The Code states “a breach of ethics” occurs when a member of the bench conducts themselves “abusively or negligently or in a manner repugnant to the decorum, dignity or honour” of the profession, or in such manner “which could seriously effect the trust conferred” on them.
The Lija local council is objecting to the permit issued five days before the election for the construction of the three-storey block with penthouse right next to the Belvedere. It scored a major victory after MEPA decreed a buffer zone around the tower, when the controversy forced MEPA to limit development to two-storey buildings only.
But the permit for the controversial project, whose architect is Siggiewi mayor Robert Musumeci, still remains valid despite the creation of the buffer zone.
In a further twist to the storey, MEPA chairman Austin Walker announced that the MEPA board will now be deciding on how to revoke the permit for the Lija block next Thursday.
He indicated that MEPA can either stop works through a conservation order, or through a discontinuance order through which the owners would be given compensation. In any case, the villa has already been demolished.
On Friday, mayor Castaldi Paris wrote to the MEPA chairman requesting him to revoke two permits in Transfiguration Avenue, the one next to the Belvedere and another one next to the Labour Party club.

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Magistrate intervenes on behalf of Lija developer “as a friend"

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